Yellow Fever

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Yellow fever facts

  • Yellow fever is an infectious disease caused by the yellow fever virus.
  • Yellow fever is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes.
  • Yellow fever is endemic in areas of Africa and South America.
  • The symptoms of yellow fever include fever, headache, and muscle aches, with some patients going on to develop life-threatening complications.
  • Yellow fever is diagnosed clinically, with laboratory confirmatory testing available.
  • The treatment for yellow fever is supportive.
  • Yellow fever can be prevented by vaccination and mosquito-control measures.

What is yellow fever? What is the history of yellow fever?

Yellow fever is an acute viral infectious disease that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Though many cases of yellow fever are mild and self-limiting, yellow fever can also be a life-threatening disease causing hemorrhagic fever andhepatitis (hence the term "yellow" from the jaundice it can cause). This viral disease occurs in tropical areas of Africa and South America, and each year there are an estimated 200,000 cases of yellow fever worldwide, leading to approximately 30,000 deaths. An increase in the number of cases of yellow fever in the last few decades has led to campaigns aimed at improving public awareness and disease prevention for this re-emerging infectious disease.

Yellow fever is thought to have originated in Africa and was likely brought to the Americas on ships during the slave trade. Several significant yellow fever outbreaks have occurred throughout history, with the first documented outbreak occurring in the Yucatan peninsula during the 17th century. During the late 18th century, a severe yellow fever outbreak struck New England and several North American port cities. The city of Philadelphia is though to have lost about one-tenth of its population during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic, causing many notable figures in American politics to flee the city. The last major yellow fever outbreak in North America occurred in New Orleans in 1905.

The theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a mosquito was first introduced by a Cuban physician, Dr. Carlos Finlay, in the late 19th century. It was not until 1900, using earlier research from Dr. Finlay as a foundation, that U.S. Army Major Dr. Walter Reed and his team proved that yellow fever was in fact transmitted by mosquitoes. This groundbreaking idea was instrumental in leading to the subsequent control of yellow fever in various regions. The virus responsible for yellow fever was later isolated in the late 1920s, and this breakthrough discovery allowed Max Theiler to later develop the first vaccine against yellow fever in the 1930s. This successful vaccine helped control and eliminate yellow fever from various countries in Africa and South America during the mid 20th century.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/16/2014

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Yellow Fever - Signs and Symptoms Question: What were the signs and symptoms that you, a friend, or relative experienced with yellow fever?
Yellow Fever - Risks Question: If you've traveled to a region at risk for yellow fever, did you get vaccinated beforehand? Discuss your experience.
Yellow Fever - Treatment Question: If you or someone you know had yellow fever, what medications and treatment were given?

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Do you need vaccinations before traveling abroad?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Travelers to other countries often face health issues they wouldn't ordinarily experience at home. To minimize your risks of becoming seriously ill when traveling abroad, you should find out in advance whether any specific immunizations may be recommended for travel to the region of the world you'll be visiting. It's also a good time to review your own immunization history.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), it's best to schedule a visit to your doctor or travel medicineclinic 4-6 weeks before an international trip. Since your body needs time to build up immunity after receiving a vaccine and many vaccines are given in a series over time, getting an early start on your immunizations is the best way to protect yourself. Even if you are making a last-minute trip or plan to leave in less than four weeks, you should still check with your doctor to see if any vaccines or preventive medications might be recommended.

The CDC divides travel vaccinations into three categories: routine, recommended, and required. The only vaccine classified as "required" by International Health Regulations is the yellow fever vaccinationfor travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

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